What does film have to do with identity anyway?

Film has always played powerful role in creating a sense of identity. You relate to the person next to you at the cinema, who laughs at the same moment as you. You might strike up a conversation with a stranger on the bus about the latest block buster. You intuitively ‘know’ what happened in a Second World War bunker, even though you were born sixty years after.

The Make Film, Make History is a project led by the Imperial War Museum as part of the focus on the First World War Centenary and is supported by Goethe Institut, Mosede Fort Denmark and In Flanders Fields Museum. Through the relationship between film, propaganda and identity and by collaborating with young people (aged 18–24) from UK, Germany and Denmark, the project explores what it means to be young in Europe today, looking to the past to reflect on European identity today.

The Battle of Somme (1916) film works as the starting point for participants. Now, I wasn’t at the Battle of Somme, a key battle fought during the First World War, but I can appreciate it’s significance in the ‘Battle of Somme’ film released in 1916. If you do get the opportunity to watch the 77 minute film, you are struck by the fact that it is about so much more than just the Battle of Somme. It is about film production at the time, about First World War Propaganda, produced as part of the official documentation of the First World War, as well as being the first ever ‘blockbuster,’ attracting a 20 million cinema audience.

Frame from the “Battle of the Somme” film — troops going over the top to attack the enemy, 1916 © IWM

The Battle of Somme (1916) film will prompt participants to think about what it might have been like, to be young and to be going into battle. Some argue that the Battle of Somme was a controversial campaign, drawing on voluntary troops, many of whom were young and inexperienced and sent into front line battle. For anyone who wants to understand the First World War, the film is a unique insight of what it was like for these young troops on the front line. Others reflect on the diversity of the troops, with regiments from all across the globe, fighting a ‘World’ War, the first of its kind-helping us understand the diversity of Europe and pushing our understanding of what it means to be ‘European.’

The intercultural relationships forged through the project is the driving force in the project. At the end of April 2015, the project will physically bring together UK, Danish and German young people in Ypres, Belgium. Here they meet each other for the first time, and take part in film and critical enquiry workshops together. Working with London based film company Chocolate Films, they will explore the impact film has on identity. Using the Battle of Somme (1916) they will also bring in films that they feel have shaped the way they see themselves as ‘European,’ exploring the shared values as well as the tensions that exist within this.

Official cinematographer is shielded from splinters by armored plate. Salonika Front, 1916 © IWM

When there isn’t a physical meeting between the three national groups, the Make Film, Make History project capitalises on contemporary technologies to work across borders digitally. Supported by project blogs, Skype, Google Hangout, twitter and Storify, the digital realm becomes the primary space for everyone in the UK, Germany and Denmark, to share, discuss and reflect on European identity.

These discussions will inform the film produced by the young people in collaboration with Chocolate Films, to create a 2016 statement on European identity to parallel that of Battle of Somme (1916). Lets see what unique insights the group can offer us…